Nuclear firms to pay for river fixes?


last updated: November 23, 2007 04:49:31 AM

WASHINGTON -- The nuclear energy industry would be tapped to pay for restoring the San Joaquin River under an evolving proposal that's incited a fierce backstage fight.

Publicly, Congress is adjourned. Privately, lawmakers, staff and lobbyists are maneuvering over a San Joaquin River restoration bill approved by a House panel last week.

Companies including Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas & Electric Co. are weighing in, warning against using nuclear energy dollars for San Joaquin River work. The tensions complicate the river restoration efforts and underscore the difficulties of finding a way to afford environmental ambitions.

"Of course I support the terms of the river settlement," said Rep. George Radanovich, R-Mariposa, "but I can't support a tax increase."

Radanovich was the original House sponsor of a bill that helps settle a 1988 lawsuit filed by environmentalists unhappy with the operations of Friant Dam east of Fresno. The lawsuit settlement, and subsequent legislation, would restore water flows below the dam and restock the San Joaquin River's depleted salmon population by 2013.

Democratic Rep. Jim Costa of Fresno recently supplanted Radanovich as the bill's sponsor. The legislation won approval last week from the House Natural Resources Committee on a party-line vote. Costa said the bill's details will be perfected.

"We're not going to move the bill until next January or February," Costa said.

The revised House bill, with an estimated federal price tag of $500 million, took money from oil and gas companies working in the Gulf of Mexico to fund the San Joaquin River work. That was a temporary fix, designed to slide the bill out of committee.

Although no final decisions have been made, lawmakers anticipate turning to another source of money, called the Uranium Enrichment Decontamination and Decommissioning Fund.

'Has nothing to do with the San Joaquin'

Nuclear energy companies pay into the fund to offset the massive cleanup costs associated with uranium enrichment at three federal facilities in Kentucky, Tennessee and Ohio.

"The cleanup of these plants ... will cost billions of dollars and could span several decades," Government Accountability Of- fice executive Robin Nazzaro told a Senate panel last week.

The fund, established in 1992, has collected up to $150 million annually from the nuclear power industry. The industry contributions are due to expire this year. Because much more work remains on the plants, Congress is considering extending the industry payments.

Environmentalists say that with utility industry revenues exceeding $298 billion annually, the industry easily can afford to continue the payments. Industry officials aren't necessarily opposed to extending the fund if changes are made, but they want the money focused on nuclear energy issues.

Lobbyists for individual companies as well as the nuclear industry have been fanning out to make their case on Capitol Hill.

"Our position is quite simple: The D&D fund should be used for its intended purpose -- to clean up and dismantle the three facilities," Nuclear Energy Institute spokesman Mitch Singer said. "This has nothing to do with the San Joaquin or any other river restoration."

A Kentucky lawmaker and Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, are drafting a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi opposing use of the nuclear energy fund. Nunes has been the most consistent critic of the river restoration plan.

"Their ultimate game plan is to raise taxes on someone," Nunes said.

Bee Washington Bureau reporter Michael Doyle can be reached at or 202-383-0006.

Source: The Modesto Bee